SBJ/June 1 - 7, 1998/No Topic Name

CART merchandising changes put sales on fast track

Only 17 months after creating a division meant to bring the bulk of its licensing in-house, motorsports sanctioning body CART is showing mammoth sales gains.

Three races into this year's FedEx Championship series, at-track sales of CART licensed products were up 46 percent in comparison to last year's numbers, the group announced.

CART attributed those gains to the creation of CART LP Direct, the direct sales and marketing division of CART Licensed Products. CART Licensed Products is a partnership formed in January 1997 between CART and Bob Hollander, the marketing guru who agreed to run CART's licensing business in exchange for a significant share in it. Hollander, who headed the licensing division for the 1996 Summer Olympic Games in Atlanta, owns 45 percent of CART LP.

Hollander's plan for CART LP focused on consolidating licensing among CART participants and tying merchandising to recognizable mainstream brands. Thus far, both strategies have paid off.

"Vending at racing events has been done the same way, year after year for years," Hollander said. "I've always said it's been, 'Paint truck crashes into T-shirt.' If you went to a race two years ago, you'd have found it looked a lot like a concert, with a lot of T-shirts thrown out there without much consideration to presentation. We found that that's not what most of our fans want."

CART has shifted its efforts to a more traditional retail approach, Hollander said. Merchandise still is sold from the sides of trailers, but many have introduced mannequins to display apparel. They also added better lighting and focused spotlights meant to show off merchandise.

The merchandise also has changed. CART LP has moved away from smaller mom-and-pop manufacturers toward recognized apparel makers such as Logo Athletic, GEAR For Sports and the Antigua Group.

"Fans are hungry for the stuff," Hollander said. "They want high value and high quality. They still want the T-shirts, but they're also interested in something that they can wear away from the track — not just while they're at it. That's the direction we're headed."

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